And so we ran on, into Summerland, and the place they said did not exist. – David Haller
Legion’s FX debut last week provided some of the strongest opening ratings numbers of the past 12 months, and the critical acclaim poured in, including my own here at Outkick. I mentioned that it wouldn’t be for everybody, and I received several DMs over @JMartOutkick saying it didn’t work for them. However, far more of you reached out to say how much you agreed with much of my assessment, raving about the visual spectacle and the fearless storytelling. If you liked the first chapter, it’s hard to imagine you didn’t greatly enjoy the second, because while it was less eventful than the opener, it continued to push all envelopes encircling structure and form.
David Haller is a powerful mutant, and if you did indeed seek out his comic history following last week’s episode and review, you know his genealogy, which matches up to his powers, much of which rely on control and chaos. Melanie Bird, played by the sublime Jean Smart, recognizes signs of his abilities and wants to find out how strong his telepathy skills truly are. As we see the strange glass room for the first time, we go deep into David’s head in some kind of cross between Inception and high-budget Bruckheimer.
Haller’s monologue to open the episode is incredibly effective, and it connotes exactly what Bird’s organization is purposed to do. He says, “We had come to do the work that must be done, to strip ourselves of the fog of life before.” The fog was David’s existence before he was awakened to the new reality that while he does have disorders, many of his problems come from his gifts, which may indeed also be curses.
Melanie mentions the government policy on mutants, saying the feds are interested in locating and tracking all abnormal entities, using those that can be beneficial to the country, and disposing of those beyond their control. That means David Haller is in imminent danger, as are Syd and the rest of those we’ve met thus far. But, her pitch that she can reset his life, show his mental illness to be more of a prize than a lump of coal, is compelling. This guy is clearly confused, not to mention dealing with nausea and a flood of information he never expected to receive.
It also explains why everyone is moving so quickly. The government wanted to bag him before he discovered who and what he was. Melanie wants him cogent so she can unleash him on the opposition.
Ptonomy Wallace (Jeremie Harris) is going to provide us with quite a bit of fun going forward. As we enter a sculpted recreation of someone’s repressed or fractured image of the past, it again opens up an infinite number of directions for Noah Hawley and his writing team. Wherever they want to go, they can make it happen. The freezing and quick traveling that it enables allow for more freedom to the plot, but also generate some astonishing visual treats. So many flashback scenes run too long, but here, we have the Inception-level events that place people that weren’t actually there into the situation.
That’s a very clever way to turn the flashback or flash forward into a completely new thing, almost a playroom for the characters on the show, and by proxy those writing the scripts. Scott Lawrence’s Doctor Poole gives us another doorway into Haller’s brain, both in and out of the glass room. We know what “Vapor” is, we discover the tribulations of David’s relationship with his ex-girlfriend and his sister, and also more about his father, who was an astronomer. The stars “talked” to him, spoke to him in ways people couldn’t. They helped him understand the bigger picture of existence, as opposed to the myopic nature of everyday living and breathing.
We don’t fully grasp the depth of the bond between David and Amy as of yet, but she’s obviously had to deal with some very difficult times with him, and still be there to give him support or love. David loves her as much as he can love anything in his condition, which makes the end of the episode so much more palpable and emotional. The Eye (Mackenzie Gray) is a frightening man with a more frightening disposition. Leeches and screams are the things nightmares are made of, and Amy’s life teeters on the brink.
No, Amy Haller isn’t going to die, at least not yet. Melanie’s point is prescient. She’s bait, she’s not a pure victim. She’s a bargaining chip, and she’s also a hopeful source of intelligence on David, those within his proximity, and his plans. I don’t think they really believe she has first-hand knowledge of much, but they’re willing to put her through hell to extract even the slightest bit of a lead. Plus, The Eye is almost assuredly a masochist, who doesn’t seem to feel a shred of remorse for his actions. Here, Hawley has created a villainous group, and despite the murky world of Haller, Syd, and Bird, the shade of grey is far preferable to the pitch black hot on their trails.
Melanie has her own interests, as she seems more concerned with Haller “doing the work” rather than clearing him of every demon. It isn’t that she’s selfish. It’s that she’s keenly aware of how flimsy their position is, and also that time is very much of the essence. Plus, just like in The Matrix, Morpheus (Melanie) recognizes David Haller (Neo) as the secret weapon that can’t be stopped. I mean, this dude transported an MRI machine out of a room, simply because he was uncomfortable in his surroundings. I can’t blame him. Having all these memories just speed through, when I’m already paranoid schizophrenic or mentally unstable seems like a really crappy way to spend an afternoon.
Syd, who is ready to marry David, but still unable to allow physical contact (which is quite the bummer for Haller), tells him Melanie sees him as “the key” to winning the impending war between classifications. Is she pushing him too far, too fast? Well, the memory sculpting has had its ups and downs already, and I would imagine that side of the equation is about to stack up in terms of its horror factor. I’ve already seen next week’s episode, and I can tell you that yes, what I just said is correct. I’ll leave it there. You have something to look forward to, but you might not want to watch it without some kind of light in the room.
Not a ton of Lenny this week, but trying to trade a beat-up kitchen range for hallucinogenic drugs was enough to give us more background on how much she has both effected and affected David’s psyche. Also, Syd reveals to David that she thinks she accidentally killed Lenny during the escape. She didn’t realize she had switched bodies until she was in the car, and what happened that day is weighing more heavily on her than on David.
Juxtaposing a vision of Amy telling her brother that Ben was about to propose to her with a memory of the stove-vapor trade was inspired stuff. One thing that leaps out about Legion is Hawley’s intention to never allow his audience to lean back in the recliner. He wants to keep your brain moving and continually take the story in a direction that has you wondering if what you’re seeing is reality or pure madness within the head of a crazy person. It’s fun, but it’s also a mental workout.
Here we have another show that leaves me nearly catatonic during the credits. I can’t move from it to another series. I just have to throw an Everybody Loves Raymond rerun on and drift back to a state of normalcy. And it has to be an early episode, like when Robert gives the fake IQ test to Ray and Debra. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s an experience, more than just a point-to-point story told on the rails. I’m not sure there are even rails. Hell, there might not even be a train. I have no idea anymore. That bothers me with other shows, but I never get the sense Hawley is trying to trick me. The questionable nature and direction of the story comes from our main protagonist, who is unreliable and nearly insane. If it weren’t presented as if it were constructed in a padded cell, it wouldn’t feel genuine at all.
That’s why I suggested it wouldn’t be for everyone. There are people that simply can’t stand this kind of storytelling. It depends on the subject matter and execution for me, and since I don’t get the dream sequence vibe I despise, I’m placing my trust in this team to pull off the lofty goals they’ve already set for the series. You can’t present a first
And, like Justice Potter Stewart’s test for obscenity, I can spot true genius and quality when I see it. And this is it. Not every second works, but generally it’s more because they’re one step ahead of us, instead of vice versa, as it usually is in mainstream serial TV. It’s almost sad there are only eight episodes in the first season, but at the same time, it means each will be rich with content and no filler, and when it departs, the audience will be left wanting more.
Legion isn’t a show where I spend much time predicting the future. I simply enjoy the present. I’ve written about other series’ who have had a similar effect on me, and often they’re among my favorite shows of the time. These reviews recap what happened and examine the mental acuity involved both on screen and in the writing room. The detail is remarkable, and there’s so much to look at that ALREADY happened, rather than wondering what’s next. For now, and eventually this will change, my brain allows me to shut down and listen, rather than constantly look for a chance to speak. That’s a welcome thing, and in this day and age, it’s increasingly rare.
Noah Hawley, Michael Uppendahl, and everyone else associated with it have to be exhausted and in need of naproxen sodium whenever they put a chapter to bed, because this thing is vast, fast, and furious. Especially when placed next to a show like Homeland, it feels like a drama series on amphetamines, but also at the peak of an LSD trip. Hunter S. Thompson would be proud, but unlike the film adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I don’t need Dramamine to take the journey. The adrenaline is perfectly adequate.
The Devil with Yellow Eyes remains terrifying. The Eye is bone-chilling. Melanie and the Island of Misfit Toys are fascinating. And I’m invested in all sides. Pray for Amy. And damn is Dan Stevens ever phenomenal. That dude is about to be EVERYWHERE folks. Get ready.
This show is the best bad dream ever. It’s the Grimmest of fairy tales. It’s the one you don’t wish to wake up to escape. Even if given the chance, I’ll stay asleep, or remain trapped in the forest, and take my chances.
I’m @JMartOutkick. Find me there, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Shall we begin? Don’t give a newbie a bazooka and expect him not to blow shit up.